Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Ecology of Cumberland Plain Woodland

Discover the biodiversity and ecology of Cumberland Plain Woodland at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

The Australian Botanic Garden includes natural remnants of Cumberland Plain Woodland vegetation. These are being managed for their long-term protection, and as sites for scientific research, particularly on the ecology of Cumberland Plain Woodland.

On these pages we share some of our experiences with Cumberland Plain Woodland ecology, as we research and discover more about the biodiversity of this fascinating but overlooked vegetation.

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Western Sydney woodland

Cumberland Plain Woodland is the original native vegetation community of much of Western Sydney. Cumberland Plain Woodland once covered an estimated area of about 125 000 hectares on the clay soils of western Sydney, extending north-west to Kurrajong and south-west to Picton. Clearing for farming and urban development have reduced its original extent to small remnants, many of which are under threat. It is now listed as an Endangered Ecological Community.

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Woodland at the Australian Botanic Garden

Prior to the establishment of the Australian Botanic Garden (Mount Annan Botanic Garden) in 1988 the land was part of rural holdings taken up by settlers in the early 1800s. Past management of the land has been patchy and areas have been subject to partial clearing, grazing by domestic stock, cultivation and pasture improvement. The Cumberland Plain Woodland remnants appear to have been the least disturbed areas. Since 1988 scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust (BGT) have been studying the ecology and monitoring changes in the remnant vegetation. Results of their work and its implications for management are provided here.

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Woodland ecology

How do woodlands function? Knowing the names of our woodland plants is only the beginning. Ecology is about discovering  many interesting natural history facts. To understand how the woodland functions we need to look at the life histories of individual woodland species and how they interact with each other. What are the life cycles of the plants and how long do they live? When do new plants germinate? What conditions favour some species but hinder others? In a sense we want to try to take the woodland system apart, looking at the individual components, and then put them back together to try to understand how they interrelate with each other.

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Plant species in the woodland

Cumberland Plain Woodland typically has a canopy of Gum trees, species of Eucalyptus, woodland with a grassy and herbaceous understorey with scattered clumps of shrubs. At the Australian Botanic Garden the remnants contain about 150 native plant species and about 40 naturalised exotic weed species, as well as those overlooked little things, mosses, lichens and fungi.

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Wildlife in the woodland

Remnants of Cumberland Plain Woodland are an important part of the landscape at the Australian Botanic Garden. Together with native grassland areas (where the trees were cleared during farming times) these natural and semi-natural lands, are managed as conservation areas for the local flora and dependent fauna, and provide the background setting for the thematic horticultural plantings and amenity areas.

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Further information

For some research ideas, as well as references and further reading.

View Research ideas and references


The Ecology of Cumberland Plain Woodland plants web pages have been compiled by Doug Benson and Lotte von Richter.

Additional information has been provided by Jocelyn Howell, Debra Little and Sarah Dempster (bushland management), Stephen Skinner (algae), Elizabeth Brown (mosses and lichens), Bob Coveny (mosses, lichens and fungi), Boris Lomov (butterflies and ants), Alan Leishman (birds), Stephanie Clarke (snails) and Martyn Robinson and David Britton of the Australian Museum (insects). Thanks to Catherine Wardrop and Lesley Elkan for the seed illustrations and Nancy Rollason for the diary illustrations.


The development of these pages has been a challenging but lengthy process and we would appreciate feedback that will help us to improve them. Comments can be sent to

Ecology of Cumberland Plain Woodland 
 Controlled burn
Hypericum gramineum
Ranunculus sessiliflorus seedling
Agarista agricola
Clematis glycinoides fruit